Every year we make our own Christmas Pudding. Over the years I’ve more or less worked out how to make a good one. It needs to be moist, it needs to be rich; it needs, I think, to be dark in colour, it needs to be laced with alcohol. My recipe is based on our family version, which in turn, was nicked from the 1960’s Cordon Bleu Cookery Course part-work. I’ve adapted it by adding Guinness stout and black treacle. One year I tried adding a peaty Scotch Whisky, but somehow, the finished result was far too smokey, too peaty, which of course is what’s obviously going to happen if you start playing around with a Single Malt. So back to cognac. And that feels right.
And now is the time to make it. Traditionally, Stir-Up Sunday is the last Sunday before Advent, ie tomorrow. Everyone takes turns to stir the pudding and make a wish.
One of the great pleasures of Christmas is walking into the food hall at Fortnum & Mason. You’re hit by that particular, delicious scent: a combination of thick wool carpet, glass, plastic wrapping, Turkish Delight, cognac, chocolate and tea. And row after row of “luxury” Christmas puddings. One of the saddest things known to mankind is the single Christmas Pudding for one. The idea of someone sitting there alone, eating it all by themselves is truly awful. Even worse if they’re wearing one of those paper hats.
And what’s the difference between a “Christmas Pudding” and a “Luxury Christmas Pudding”? That’s a question I would love to ask the manufacturers. Like the dreadful “iconic”, “luxury” is one of those over-used, mistunderstood, meaningless words. These days everything is luxury. From a yuppy apartment flat in Nine Elms (“the height of sophistication’) to a bog-standard entry level Mercedes-Benz (“luxury in motion”). Does a spoonful of cheap brandy and a few glacé cherries make a pudding de-luxe?
Here’s our recipe. (This year I’ve got a bottle of sweet 12 year old Pedro Ximenez Sherry lying around, so I’m going to add a teaspoon of the stuff to the mix. Just a tiny bit. An extra hint of raisin will be no bad thing).
Incidentally, the fabulous illustration above is by the brilliant printmaker, Alice Pattullo. Recently she designed an interesting bookplate for me based on that famous painting of Charles II receiving the first pineapple grown on English soil. The Pudding King was a design for a Christmas Card, as sold by the V & A.
The Official Greasy Spoon Christmas Pudding
Stir up all the following ingredients in a pudding basin:
-350g Mixed fruit and peel (this means crystallised peel, dried apricots, currants, saltanas, raisins, grated lemon rind, and grated orange rind)
-50g Chopped glacé cherries
-25g Flaked almonds
-50g Dried suet (you can't get the proper stuff anymore- the EU has made it illegal)
-35g White breadcrumbs
-35g Plain flour
-70g Moist dark brown sugar
-50g Grated apple
-A dash of mixed spice and grated nutmeg (Some weirdos add carrot- but very sensibly, I leave this one out).
Once you've stirred all the ingredients together, mix in the following ingredients:
-2 beaten eggs
-Juice of half a lemon and half an orange
-2 tablespoons of a dark stout (ie Guinness)
-Tablespoon of black treacle
-Dash of decent Cognac (ie Brandy or Armagnac)
Stir it up like mad. Now’s the time to add the mixture to a basin. A traditional ceramic pudding basin is just dandy.
Smear the inside of the basin with butter. This will stop the pudding sticking to the side. Pour in the mixture. Top off with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper, ideally cut down to fit. Finally, place a cloth over the basin, and tie it off at the top with a bit of string.
Steam it for five to six hours. This means getting hold of a large pan, filling it about a quarter full with water and bringing it to the boil. Place the pudding in the middle of the pan, and put the lid on. The steam will rise up within the pan, and cook the pudding. Once it's cooked, leave it in a cool place with a piece of tin foil on top. It will mature in the run-up to Christmas. On the great day itself, you will need to steam it for a further three hours.
Serve with a sprig of holly and brandy butter. Pour over brandy and set light to it. There’s a theory that hot brandy will stay alight longer than cold brandy. I’ve never been entirely convinced. Heating brandy drives off the alcohol. Surely?